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June 9

How College Conservatives Became Modern-Day Blackshirts

American colleges are being turned into battlefields. The faceoff at Berkeley back in April, since overshadowed by even more violent events, was not a freak incident, but rather a resurgence of an ongoing struggle between radical leftism and establishment conservatism on college campuses. Since the 1950s, when anti-communist paranoia was the centerpiece of right-wing politics, some element of the GOP has directly collaborated with college students to counteract leftism in America, under the guise of preventing “liberal totalitarianism” from robbing rightists of their free speech and civil liberties.

The upstarts of Turning Point USA are only the most recent addition to a roster of ostensible “student activists,” who provide a youthful and cheery face for a reactionary political machine which, throughout postwar history, has used controversy and state-sponsored subterfuge to hobble socially progressive movements in universities, always at the direction of GOP insiders and conservative figureheads. The true heavyweights of collegiate right-wing vanguardism, who have maintained that title since the ’60s, are the Young Americans for Freedom. They function as a pathfinder organization, laying the groundwork for Republican recruitment by engaging in inflammatory propaganda campaigns and implanting their chapters across the country.

The result is that while College Republican groups publicly style themselves as grassroots organizers who have unlocked the budding political interests of their fellow students, the truth is incredibly sinister: behind these well-dressed puppets stand conservative strategists and a network of wealthy donors, providing the GOP with a ready source of voters, supporters, volunteers and, when the need arises, spies and propagandists.

By their own ideology, a mixture of traditional conservative authoritarianism and a sickening devotion to capitalism, the so-called New Right was fated from the beginning to mutate into a gang of blackshirts. The trends they see as threatening to their way of life – immigration, PoC liberation movements, feminism, “political correctness,” the growing presence of socialist discourse – cannot be countered without simultaneously drawing the attention of neoreactionaries. And rather than give up ground by calling out those toxic would-be allies, the New Right under Trump has chosen to mix ranks with white nationalists, far-right totalitarians, and brazen neo-Nazis, while feigning ignorance or non-involvement.

This essay will examine how college conservatives became a front for crypto-fascist organizing, focusing primarily on the Young Americans for Freedom. But this metamorphosis began decades before any current member of the YAF or TPUSA was born. To fully understand the origins of Trump’s young footsoldiers, one must look back to the 1950’s, and to a man named Morton Blackwell, who would engineer the process by which college students could be manipulated by flashy, hyperbolic patriotism and made to serve the interests of the American Empire.

THE BIRTH OF THE YAF: CONSERVATISM IN DECLINE

The “official” timeline of the YAF begins at 1960, the date of their founding. But the organization actually grew out of a necessity to revitalize conservatism during the 1950s, a time when traditional conservatism had been gradually whittled away and overpowered by a postwar, moderate-liberal coalition under the Truman administration.

Following the implementation New Deal, Harry S Truman was entrusted with the legacy of FDR’s four-term stretch of economic restoration and American exceptionalism. But Truman also inherited a nation of mixed political views and dealigned establishment parties, enshrouded by a wartime atmosphere [1]. Credited with dealing the deathblow to WWII, Truman enjoyed a nearly 90% popularity rate during 1945, and he used that popular support to coalesce political power around his globally-oriented projects. Implementing the Truman Doctrine, he took the initiative to prepare for the impending deterioration of US-Soviet relations by cauterizing communist outgrowths wherever he could.

To that end, Truman began enforcing a policy of “containment” of communist threats abroad. He aided both Greece and Turkey during the Greek Civil War, the first major proxy battle of the Cold War. He launched the multi-billion dollar Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe, insisting that poverty and industrial decline would breed communist sympathies in the region if not corrected. He initiated the Berlin Airlift, a showy defiance of Soviet authority which served to heighten American patriotism.

But Truman also faced the challenge of reorienting the postwar American economy, which at the time was geared towards factory work in support of the war. FDR had announced a plan to produce 50,000 planes every year; by 1944, America was producing almost twice that number. The workforce grew by roughly 20% to meet the demands of factory jobs. Now, all of that labor had to be repurposed, and wherever it couldn’t be, worker disputes were unavoidable. In 1946, after years of adherence to a no-strike pledge for the sake of the boys overseas, tens of thousands of workers began a wave of strikes over poor management and excessive disciplinary measures by their bosses. Truman would variously face outraged strikers from coal miners, meatpackers, steelworkers, and other vital elements of the private sector. In total, 4.3 million workers participated in the struggle [2]. Truman used the Taft-Hartley act, which he originally attempted to veto, to put down these conflicts by force.

The result of these universal tensions was that in 1948, after being continually stonewalled by the 80th Congress – which the president dubbed the “Do-Nothing Congress” for their obstructionism – Truman was losing popularity across the board. Neither conservatives, nor liberals, were enthusiastic about his leadership [3].

Nonetheless, he secured a second term, despite an overwhelming assurity that he would lose to opponent Thomas E. Dewey. Truman harvested his support from the disoriented public through a “whistle-stop tour,” whereby his campaign was brought to the neighborhoods of the working class via the railways, rejuvenating his grassroots bloc through many short speeches. Although Dewey was a moderate Republican and fairly progressive in his policies, he had enjoyed a greater popularity than the flagging Truman administration for his work in curbing organized crime as the DA of New York. He, like his supporters, made the error of assuming his success, and he was overly pragmatic in his campaign. In the end, Truman pulled off a spectacular upset: journalist Sidney Lubell, having surveyed the public, found that, surprisingly, Americans actually considered Truman to be the safer and more conservative candidate [4].

So it was that by the mid-50s, America was filled with disjointed voters who had no viable alternative to Truman and his New Deal Coalition, a bloc of various interest groups cobbled together to form a national, liberal, pro-Truman majority. There was no place for hard-right conservatives, reactionaries, or the Deep South “Dixiecrats” who split from Truman and the Democrats over their segregationist views. Famously, essayist Lionel Trilling pronounced that “Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition,” while conservatism was merely “… irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.” Author Robert Bendiner observed, “Rare is the citizen who can bring himself to say, ‘Sure I’m a conservative’ … any American would sooner drop dead than declare himself a reactionary.” Journalist Samuel Lubell (no relation) reportedly asked a recently-settled suburbanite of Boston why he hadn’t become a Republican after leaving the urban landscape, where Democrat support was supposedly centered. The man answered, “I own a nice home, have a new car and am much better off than my parents were. I’ve been a Democrat all my life. Why should I change?” [5]

Enter one William F. Buckley, the man who would birth the YAF.

Buckley remains an icon of the right wing to this day. A military veteran of WWII, a Yale graduate, and member of the elitist Skull and Bones society, Buckley was recruited into the CIA in 1951 based on his academic performance and political scholarship. Within the year, he was serving with E. Howard Hunt – one of the men eventually convicted over the Watergate scandal – in Mexico City, translating a book by communist defector Eudocio Ravines. The work was boring, and Buckley resigned, deciding to delve into journalism instead [6].

Accordingly, in 1955, Buckley founded the rightist National Review magazine in 1955. The publication became an outlet not only for Buckley’s personal disillusionment with American conservatism, but also for the many embittered reactionaries and traditionalists who had been pushed to the margins during Truman’s liberal Democrat regime. Buckley’s political views, as expressed in his own writings and his television series, Firing Line, were a pantheon of formerly blackballed conservative ideals. He wrote McCarthy and His Enemies, a three-part defense of Senator McCarthy’s unhinged witch hunts [7]. In his 1957 piece, Why the South Must Prevail [8], Buckley opined that white Southern society wasn’t obligated to extend suffrage to black folks, because their mental deficiencies made them ill-suited for civic participation: “the White community is so entitled,” he explains, “because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.” He suggested requiring IQ tests for prospective voters, to weed out the unintelligent. Buckley developed a healthy following, and in doing so shaped the boundaries of a new breed of conservatism. In his first widely-circulated work of 1951, God and Man at Yale [9], he blended free-market principles with military expansionism and Christian faith; though friendly towards libertarians, he denounced Ayn Rand specifically for her anti-religious bent.

Finally, in 1960, Buckley resolved to form an organization dedicated to pursuing the lost causes of traditional conservatism. During a gathering of roughly 100 fellow rightists at his estate in Sharon, Connecticut, Buckley co-founded the Young Americans for Freedom, designed to be a youth-based advocacy group for his new conservative ideology. The organization’s founding principles were read aloud, from a document called the Sharon Statement [10], which stressed limited government, free market economics, and staunch anti-communism. It became not only the soul of the YAF, but a touchstone for a complete revival of Republican conservatism.

VIGUERIE, BLACKWELL, THE YAF, & THE BARRY GOLDWATER CAMPAIGN

Like Buckley, the name of Richard Viguerie is held in reverence by the modern conservative movement. Born in 1933, Viguerie became the executive secretary for the YAF at the age of 28. From then on, Viguerie sought to organize that part of the population which, recovering from the low ebb of conservatism, was looking for an equal and opposite reaction to Truman’s coalition of interrelated political interests. It would be called the “New Right” when its basic outline had finally crystallized [11], but at the time was usually called “fusionism.”

It is no exaggeration to call Viguerie a mastermind. He is credited with pioneering direct-mail campaign tactics, whereby a deluge of solicitation letters are sent to prospective donors, drawing in support from millions of citizens [12]. Rather than pouting over the success of liberalism, Viguerie instead adopted and refined the type of street-level organizing that had strengthened the left during the ’50s and early ’60s [13]. Even in his later life, Viguerie proved to have a preternatural sense of the zeitgeist: he has founded or co-founded literally hundreds of conservative organizations using a cookie-cutter methodology; he recognized email as the logical evolution of direct-mail solicitation; he warned that conservatives had forgotten their roots during the Bush administration, and in 2004, he more or less predicted the McCain loss due to a combination of liberal outrage and rightist complacency [14]. Championing small government and libertarian economics, he also tapped into the energy of the Tea Party from its inception [15]. He even forewarned the GOP in 2014 that unless it could rally far-right voters, it would lose the next election [16].

This is the man who took Morton Blackwell under his wing during the turbulent ’60s, and taught the younger man everything he knew about aggressive, grassroots organizing through agitation of the masses. Later in his life, Viguerie would plainly state the maxim by which he educated Blackwell: “fear [and] anger are much stronger motivations than support for a cause.”

Blackwell, for his part, cut his teeth working for the College Republicans. Born in 1939, he ascended to state chairmanship for the College Republicans chapter in Baton Route [17]. Pursuing a more conventional role in collegiate politics, he served on the Young Republicans National Committee for 12 years total, acting under four different College Republican national chairmen from 1965 to 1970. Additionally, he became the national vice chairman for the Young Republican National Federation. All told, his loyalty to the New Right was firmly established by the time he was working with Robert Viguerie and the YAF, learning his mentor’s techniques over a seven-year period.

Blackwell, however, took Viguerie’s fight into mainstream politics. During 1964, Blackwell became Barry Goldwater’s youngest elected delegate for that year’s RNC in San Francisco. Goldwater’s election bid provided a national stage for the YAF, who first made contact with Goldwater during their massive 18,000-attendee event called the “Rally for World Liberation From Communism,” at Madison Square Garden in March of 1962, where Goldwater was invited as a key speaker [18]. The youth group soon began operating as a de facto branch of the Goldwater campaign, boosting him to a nomination victory over the more liberal Nelson Rockefeller, the last remaining moderate Republican in the style of Thomas E. Dewey. The Goldwater campaign became a locus for the New Right, and both its senior membership and the YAF itself were molded by the experience, doomed though it was [19].

It is important, at this point, to reemphasize the degree to which the Red Scare had shaped the right wing by the 1960s. It was only 13 years earlier at Peekskill, NY, that the appearance of singer Paul Robeson, known for his communist affiliation, became the target of a violent hate mob courtesy of the American Legion. Concert-goers were indiscriminately attacked, Robeson was lynched in effigy, and cross was burned [20]. Knowing that far-leftism and communism were both sympathetic to the black struggle, rightists had come to consider the two interchangeable. By the 60s, the presence of the W.E.B. Du Bois Club and the work of the Communist Party of America seemed to confirm this connection between civil rights activism and Soviet manipulation. Now, Goldwater, like Thurmond before him, played on both anti-communism and racial tensions, opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and also accusing the Johnson administration of being “soft on Communism.” [21][22]

To this brew of reactionary politics and anti-leftist fervor was added the worn-out, dishonest crockery of “states rights,” that all-purpose camouflage for the white supremacist mentality. Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Act mirrored that of Buckley: as they saw it, if the dominant cultural force of a given state was opposed to integration, and the state government reflected that fact, using federal protections to prevent discrimination was a violation of that state’s sovereignty. Foreseeably, Goldwater’s rejection of the black community as “ungrateful” earn him support with the Klan [23]. Of course, when Buckley himself tested this rhetoric against James Baldwin at Cambridge University in a 1965 debate, his pitifully transparent racism and arrogant reasoning (“The problem in Mississippi isn’t that too few Negroes can vote, it’s that too many whites can…”) was soundly rejected by the students, and Baldwin mopped the floor with Buckley [24].

Still, this amalgamation of resurrected conservative values proved to be a winning formula for the YAF’s fledgeling coalition. The October 1964 issue of New Guard, the in-house publication of the YAF, not only boasted about the massive rallies held for Goldwater, but also featured a piece entitled “A Man of Courage,” in which the YAF praised the so-called bravery of Strom Thurmond [25]. They published his lengthy screed against the Democratic party’s elitism, and the weakness of establishment conservatism: “The party of our fathers is dead,” he laments. In the opening paragraph, the article called him “one of the YAF’s most outspoken supporters.”

So began the YAF’s tradition of dressing up their right-wing authoritarianism as a mercy, a concern for the poor souls in Alabama who had been forced to share their schools with black students by a cruel leftist dictatorship. It was a blatant and self-gratifying masquerade, but as Viguerie said, the white anxiety surrounding the empowerment of black folks was a much stronger motivator than the ethereal goal of equalizing human existence. And to harness that emotional turmoil, Morton Blackwell developed his own methodology of utilizing outrage as political ammunition. Rooted in the absurd belief that conservative students are an oppressed minority struggling against a totalitarian leftist regime, Blackwell tutored his students through aggressive, dirty tactics reminiscent of guerilla warfare.

More importantly, he would take part in the process of fusing youth groups like the YAF and the GOP itself, not as activists and politicians, but as mutually cooperative, official organs of the New Right. Cultivated during the Goldwater campaign, along with credo of the New Right itself, Blackwell’s vision for the YAF would be clarified into a codex of standard practices over the next decade.

REAGAN’S FANATICS, NIXON’S SPIES, & TRUMP’S BLACKSHIRTS

In a Salon article penned by one Jeff Horwitz of the Associated Press, the journalist chronicles his observation of a Blackwell-style training session for student activists hosted by the Leadership Institute – an organization founded by none other than Blackwell himself in 1979 [26]. Under the tutelage of Paul Gourley, former National Chairman of the College Republican National Committee, Horwitz describes the lesson presented to the audience: rigging a student election by situating the polling place in a remote location. This discourages busy, independent student voters from bothering to find the polling place, while one’s own supporters can organize themselves to ensure they all vote successfully before day’s end. One also makes certain their own “non-partisan” group is in charge of the polling operations. It’s not technically ballot-stuffing, the instructor clarifies.

These techniques, organized by the Leadership Institute and developed by Morton Blackwell during the ’60s, are just a sampling of the duplicitous, underhanded, and Machiavellian approach to politics taken by the YAF, and College Republicans as a whole. Campaigns, voting drives, and rallies are seen not as low-risk introductions to the democratic process, but as a boot camp to develop future chieftains of the GOP. What makes the unpermitted, outsider funding of student elections by Turning Point USA (as seen at OSU) so gruesome is that such atypically hardball activity by the youth is not mere capriciousness; rather, these students have been carefully instructed by adults in the ways of political espionage.

This attitude – the belief that every campaign should be treated as total warfare – breeds precisely the kind of cold shrewdness and ugly scheming employed by the YAF and their elders during the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, when Blackwell was still embedded with the Goldwater campaign.

At first, the YAF voiced support for the efforts of their fellow students. They broke ranks, however, the instant that civil disobedience and deliberate agitation were employed by the FSM, and the battle had to be taken to the state itself [27]. Conservatism, of course, cannot abide by disobedience to the police. As one YAF ally and member of the Young Republicans weakly rationalized, “The conservative groups fully agree with the purpose of the sit-ins in Sproul Hall… However, our belief in lawful redress of grievances prevents us from joining the sit-ins.” Despite claiming to share the FSM’s ultimate goals, the YAF, College Republicans, and Goldwater supporters in general provided only lip service and occasional participation with FSM pickets. And all the while, the YAF harbored both an avowed opposition to civil rights, as well as one particularly vicious enemy of the Free Speech Movement.

“What is called for is a widespread union of students, free from the influence of establishment political parties, capable of opposing the decentralized threats which plague their generation, and fully controlled by its own membership.”

In addition to supporting the dishonest “free speech” justification of Goldwater’s anti-civil rights platform, and exalting Strom Thurmond’s white supremacism cheaply disguised as “states rights,” the YAF appointed an uncommonly charming conservative figure to their National Advisory Board in 1962: Ronald Reagan, who was capitalizing on public distaste for the leftist radicals at Berkeley to boost his political significance. The YAF doted on Reagan from the beginning, with many of their alumni joining his administration later on. Frank Donatelli, still an acting member of the YAF, was a field man for Reagan in the ’60s during his gubernatorial run. In 1980, it was Blackwell who orchestrated the Reagan campaign’s youth vote [28]. And yet this is the same Ronald Reagan who, as IGD has previously covered, was directly coordinating with J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to infiltrate, sabotage, and neutralize the FSM through the usage of FBI agents and student collaborators, an unambiguous case of statist censorship [29]. The practice of employing student informants to surveil communists and other leftist radicals was, at this time, completely routine. Even Reagan himself was voluntarily feeding the FBI information on possible communist sympathizers during his acting career [30].

Similarly, the YAF needed no coercion whatsoever to become the FBI’s lowliest operatives. They were among the student organizations analyzed by the FBI not as enemies, but as assets: the agency toyed with plots to enmesh itself with the YAF and anonymously provide them with incriminating or embarrassing evidence against Communist Party members [31]. In 1964, the executive director of the YAF offered to collaborate with the FBI and opened its records for their analysis, to ensure the organization was free of potential communists. In 1965, the FBI issued orders to their San Francisco field office to covertly supply the YAF with leaflets attacking the communist W.E.B. Du Bois Club. As late as 1970, the YAF was still plotting to infiltrate and sabotage various leftist student organizations on behalf of the government [32].

More than anything, it is the YAF’s long-standing dedication Reagan that betrays their true nature. They lovingly preserve the Reagan Ranch, and regularly hold meetings thereon. Grant Strobl, the student National Chairman of the YAF itself, often poses with his “prized” standee of Reagan, and frequently invokes his name as a typification of conservative excellent. Though he condemns the “terrorism” of the Free Speech Movement as the reason behind the YAF’s defection, Strobl seems genuinely incognizant of Reagan’s role in funding far-right paramilitaries during the Iran-Contra affair, extremists who engaged in kidnapping, torture, rape, and execution during their campaign against the Sandinistas [33]. Despite portraying themselves as defenders of free speech, there is no such glory to be found in the YAF’s collusion and approval of state-sponsored opposition of civil rights groups and leftist organizations, domestic or otherwise.

And they are certainly not the only collegiate conservative group to partner with Republican candidates and state agencies to undercut leftism in America. When Nixon needed to drum up support among the youth, he enlisted the help of an eager young bootlicker named George Gorton [34]. Nixon, understanding his bad image among college students in particular, needed a way to depict his detractors in the young left as fringe elements. Kenneth Reitz, the youth director of the CRP, needed a leader for the Youth Voters for the President (YVP), a group which would artificially build student support for Nixon and inject his desired narrative into the media. Essentially, the CRP needed to making voting for Nixon “cool.” It was Jeb Magruder, another complaint today from the CRP, who offered the job to Gorton due to his experience in campaigning. Gorton had directed the successful mayoral campaign for Pete Wilson, yet another conservative who had worked on the Goldwater campaign in ’64.

Rietz stressed the goal of making it appear that the majority of students were supporting Nixon, to make him seem like a “hip crowd” candidate. Gorton deployed an operation which could have been written by Blackwell himself: to engineer support for Nixon, he offered the YVP as a “non-partisan” organizer for mock elections which would “reveal” current student opinions about the president. The rest is a predictably devious scheme:

“YVP members quickly canvassed door to door in dorms and fraternities, and positioned a YVP table to ensure that ‘every Nixon voter passing the poll will vote.’ As Gorton explained, after the YVP convinced student leaders to hold mock elections, they sent ‘a good looking girl and guy’ to hand out Nixon literature and make sure all the pro-Nixon kids voted. While the YVP directors suggested that polls should be easy to locate, the election ‘must not be connected to regular student elections, the selling of football tickets, or anything else that will cause an unusually large voter turnout.'” ~ Seth E. Blumenthal, “Children of the Silent Majority”

Gorton was also running a second, less visible plot for Nixon. As detailed in Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men,” Gorton was part of the “Kiddie Corps” spying ring which was regularly paid by the CRP to infiltrate and observe radical student groups. Gorton was entrusted with paying off Young Republicans members for about $150 a week to get their hands dirty, reporting information to Rietz to give the Nixon campaign a general map of leftist opinions and activities. Meanwhile, the YVP worked in tandem to shape the opinions of conservative students in a pro-Nixon direction.

Frighteningly, this behavior was even repeated during the Trump campaign: Charlie Kirk, executive director of TPUSA, spent two months working directly with members of Trump’s team with the explicit goal of drawing in collegiate right-wing voters. The same year he contributed a piece to Breitbart, Kirk was discovered by Bill Montgomery, a savagely anti-immigrant Arizona county attorney backed for re-election that year by the Tea Party [35]. Montgomery encouraged Kirk to attend a community college and hone his activism skills, rather than Baylor University, where Kirk had been accepted after a rejection from West Point, Montgomery’s own alma mater. Kirk was told to approach conservative megadonor and evangelical Christian, Foster Friess, who both donated to the Trump campaign and financed the founding of Turning Point USA [36].

This pattern of direct involvement with GOP government entities, Republican organizations, and individual conservative donors has fueled the growth of organizations like the YAF since Buckley’s day, and it continues even now, melding fraudulent “student activism” with the long-term goals of the Republican Party.

THE LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE & MEGADONORS: THE POWER BEHIND THE THRONE

Though not presently tied to the intelligence community, as former generations were, modern college conservatives nonetheless share a sinister fraternity through the Leadership Institute.

Blackwell’s Leadership Institute bills itself without qualification: it is a training camp for future conservative leaders and activists [37]. It provides dozens of yearly training seminars, boot camps, workshops, and an internship program, all designed to impart Blackwell’s finely-tuned brand of “activism” to a younger demographic. Predictably, the LI has produced many notorious alumni over the years. Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell are two of the most well-known, but another Blackwell acolyte has risen to prominence through the Trump administration: Vice President Mike Pence.

Since its founding, the Leadership Institute has emerged as a primary hub of the conservative machine. Claiming over 1700 affiliated campus groups, it is doubtlessly the single largest non-profit of its kind, a training ground where new conservative activists are inducted, molded, and indoctrinated to become the next generation of fanatics and elected officials. It serves as an interlocutor between the “powers above,” the GOP elite and its cadres of donors, and the “powers below,” the students and officials-in-waiting who eagerly become supplicants to a 60-year old crusade against leftism.

But the Institute has served a secondary function as what amounts to a slush fund for college conservatives. Fueled by high-profile donors throughout the right-wing ecosystem, the LI has funneled millions of dollars through universities to support those 1700 factions over which they have total mastery.

The YAF claim to have a thick checkbook when it comes to delivering their message to college campuses – as of 2015, its annual budget was nearly $18 million. They offer chapter start-up kits, one-on-one advisory sessions with “leadership teams,” prefabricated activism projects, exclusive training, and the “logistical and financial assistance to host a big name conservative speaker,” to quote their sales pitch [38]. Unsurprisingly, so vast a pool of resources is not driven by one-time contributions from the smiling parents of YAF members. In addition to unceasingly hawking their garish merchandise at every opportunity, the YAF’s coffers are kept full by the Leadership Institute’s hand [39]. The names are instantly recognizable: the DeVos Foundation has given $15 million to the YAF, and smaller donations to the LI. The F.M. Kirby Foundation chipped in $2.2 million and $500k to each organization, respectively. The Charles Koch Foundation has donated tens of thousands to both groups. The anonymous Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, through which billions are secretly shuttled around every year, also has one tendril firmly implanted in the YAF and LI [40]. Suffice it to say, if a wealthy individual has interest in breeding a new generation of economic libertarianism, they have probably opened their wallet for a College Republican somewhere in the national pecking order.

This money is not only used to power the Leadership Institute itself, but also its numerous media groups which distort the climate of campus politics in order to justify the existence of rightist henchmen organizations. For example, the LI is responsible for operating TPUSA’s “Professor Watchlist,” the McCarthyist blacklist for leftist professors which attempts to remove the influence of non-conservative educators. But the Institute is, simultaneously, the funding force behind Campus Reform, the “news organization” whose poorly-sourced, purposefully diluted reports form the basis of many of the Watchlist’s invectives against professors. The College Fix, another forgery of so-called “campus journalism,” is not only listed as an affiliate of the Leadership Institute, and regularly includes the LI’s perspective in its articles, but also failed to disclose its own ties to the DeVos family: they are funded by donations from the DeVos’, and their son, Rick DeVos, is a member of the Board of Directors for the Student Free Press Association, which operates the College Fix [41].

All told, the reports which are delivered by the Leadership Institute through Campus Reform – appropriately dubbed “higher education’s internet outrage machine” – are devoid of context and cherry-picked for their potential to incite righteous indignation in the same conservative students who are trained by the LI’s seminars, attend LI-hosted rallies and speaking events, and join LI-funded organizations [42].

Once again, this technique is a Blackwell special: it is called “controlled controversy.” On the one hand, his self-contained sphere of engineered moral indignation keeps conservative students in a perpetual froth over the non-existent dictatorship of leftism in higher education. On the other, his acolytes are also tutored in using bombastic, attention-grabbing publicity stunts to achieve the opposite effect, pissing off the nearest liberal so as the draw sympathy from otherwise uninvested conservatives when the situation explodes. For a material example, look at the “affirmative action bake sale” listed as a tactic in TPUSA’s own handbook [43], or Grant Strobl’s bigoted prank of claiming his preferred pronoun to be “His Majesty.” By casting themselves as victims when these events inevitably result in disciplinary actions or opposition from progressives, college conservatives can immediately build an emotional connection with other young rightists looking for any excuse to articulate their general distaste for leftism. Professional rat-faced hoaxer James O’Keefe is another Leadership Institute alumnus well-versed in manufacturing conspiracy [44].

This is the latest phase in the slow transition of collegiate Republican student groups from purely reactionary entities to full-fledged, institutionalized organs of the GOP. Funded by the same donors who maintain Republican war chests, educated and directed by GOP politicians and conservative gurus, and informed through media sources controlled by the same, a student who has pledged their loyalty to the YAF, is soon nothing more than a deluded fanatic, wholly convinced of their moral superiority by the Reaganite equivalent of a Skinner Box.

RECOGNIZING THE THREAT: COLLEGE REPUBLICANS AND THE ALT-RIGHT

And so we arrive at the modern iteration of American blackshirt organizations. It should be obvious, through this analysis, how groups like the College Republicans, Young Americans for Freedom, and Turning Point USA were destined from their very inception to become soulless, conniving institutions of ur-fascist recruitment.

From the suffocation of conservatism in the Truman years and the necessitation of Buckley’s revival, the YAF were infused with a foundation of free market principles, traditional social divisions, and opposition to progressivism, even to the point of renouncing the Civil Rights Movement. From the Goldwater’s “free speech” opposition to civil rights and Thurmond’s “states rights” approach to white supremacy, the YAF rapidly developed an authoritarian ideology; to them, leftism is a scourge which can only be ended by stamping it out completely. This requires a purely rightist, unchallenged, centralized governing body. Reagan infected them with a bad habit of hero-worship and a pseudo-religious patriotism, firmly defining their identity as nationalists. Blackwell and the Leadership Institute institutionalized the YAF through a donor network and standardized their operations. Now, in the New Right’s maturity, Trump has brought them to their zenith of depravity with a rejection of human equality, a thirst for militarism, and unchecked, free market capitalism.

Social conservatism; authoritarianism; nationalism; strong-man leadership; corporatism. We can easily recognize these as the raw, distilled essence of fascism.

The YAF are not alone in their devolution towards jackbooted regimentation [45]. IGD has previously covered the multiple connections between the College Republicans and the white nationalists of the alt-right: the UW chapter’s leadership was rife with connections to neo-nazi groups; the Berkeley chapter was responsible for Milo’s appearance on that campus and has numerous ties to Identity Evropa; the CU Boulder chapter brought the alt-right to Colorado in partnership with TPUSA. Just as Buckley intended, the various strains of conservatism and right-wing extremism in America have crossbred into a monstrous, amorphous coalition of the most aberrant, blatantly prejudiced, and authoritarian factions who have been emboldened by Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency [46].

The YAF have proudly platformed anti-trans speakers like Ben Shapiro, anti-Islamic fiends like Robert Spencer, conservative demagogues like Ann Coulter, and outright white supremacists like Paul LePage, all used as bait for different subcultures of the right. By their own mad crusade to build a conservative plurality in America, they have lain down with dogs and awoken with fleas. The MSU chapter of the YAF was so toxically white nationalist in demeanor that it was eventually listed as a hate-group by the SPLC [47]. The collaboration between College Republican groups and avowed white nationalists like the Proud Boys is not some accident of history, it is merely the goose-stepping chickens coming home to roost.

And because of their ties to the GOP through the Leadership Institute, this much is undeniable: neither the YAF, nor their lesser rivals, can be described as “student activists,” not even by the most grotesque contortion of the imagination. They are, without question, a de facto wing of the Republican Party, organized specifically to tilt college politics in favor of the right and legitimize far-right beliefs; a modern-day Opera Nazionale Balilla. They have been aided by the state, the intelligence community, and the most crooked politicians of the 20th century. They employ deception, media manipulation, and subterfuge to attack leftist students, all at the direction of senior citizens who ought to have grown a conscience by now.

As such, they deserve neither the respect, nor the tolerance, of their fellow students. The alt-right violence exploding across American campuses has been tacitly invited by these same organizations, as a necessary component of their construction of a conservative federation. Wherever the YAF spread their influence, white nationalism, neoreactionary hate crimes, and fascist undercurrents will follow. Meanwhile, college administrations will be paralyzed by inaction, fearful of the well-funded legal action the YAF can bear against them, as they have at Berkeley. Only one course of action can plausibly counter their baleful presence: radical student action.

Young liberationists have already taken the first steps towards combating the YAF and their cohorts. But a more drastic and revolutionary movement will need to develop before marginalized students can be assured of their safety, and their complete liberation can be undertaken with their own hands. Students should look to the ’60s, when their forebearers first crossed swords with the YAF, and learn from those organizations which struck the first blows against the state and the American right. What is called for is a widespread union of students, free from the influence of establishment political parties, capable of opposing the decentralized threats which plague their generation, and fully controlled by its own membership. When such a coalition has the necessary strength to obliterate the YAF, to remove the hand of the state from the throat of higher education, and to expunge the murderous white supremacists lurking on their campuses – only then will colleges be places of learning, rather than lopsided battlefields.

SOURCES

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[5] Leonard Reissman , “Working-Class Suburb: A Study of Auto Workers in Suburbia. Bennett M. Berger Blue Collar Man: Patterns of Dual Allegiance in Industry. Theodore V. Purcell ,” American Journal of Sociology 66, no. 5 (Mar., 1961): 536-537.
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[43] http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/28/us/university-bake-sale-trnd/
[44] http://www.politico.com/story/2010/01/okeefe-crews-conservative-training-032138
[45] https://itsgoingdown.org/kids-alt-right-uc-berkeley-college-republicans/
[46] http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/meet-the-despised-and-emboldened-college-republicans-of-uw/
[47] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/kyle-bristow

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Ami du Radical

Chronicling the radical struggle in the central region of so-called America.

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